26th April to 29th April 2014
26.04.2014 - 29.04.2014
Our last morning in Medellin was spent having a leisurely breakfast at Angela’s after getting up early. We then caught a bus to the main bus terminal where we got out 6 hour bus to Pereira, a city further south in the coffee zone of Colombia. The journey was beautiful as we climbed up through the mountains, but with all the bends Susanne felt a bit sickly. We made it into Pereira at about 7.30pm and caught a taxi straight to Juan’s house (the guy from the lost city trek) – once again a very kind Colombian offered up his bed for us for the night. We went out for some late dinner in a very groovy bar-restaurant and then headed to the so called zona rosa (‘pink’ zone) party area of Pereira. We stumbled across a very cool bar that reminded us of being in Bristol. Funnily enough it used to be called Bristol, but has since changed its name to Camden Town and classes itself as a ‘gastro pub’ – funny, even though it is a funky bar with bicycles as decoration on the wall! In the morning, all three of us headed off to Salento (as Juan decided to have a day trip out) stumbling across a religious procession as we wandered through the streets to find a taxi. Salento is a small town/village in the mountains and is renowned for its traditional ‘paisa’ architecture (paisa refers to the region) and stunning walks in the nearby Valle de Cocora. We arrived into Salento in the late afternoon and checked into a hostel called Plantation House. The rooms were rather overpriced, so in the end we went for a four bed dorm that luckily had no-one else in it. The place was owned by a rather arrogant English-man and was a typical case of ‘Lonely Planet syndrome’ – when a hostel/hotel has a great write-up in Lonely Planet, is quite old and is well-known in the area it starts to go downhill quite rapidly. After sorting out accommodation, we had some lunch in the main square area which was quite touristy, but really nice. It was actually full of loads of Colombian day-trippers as it was a Sunday, but normally during the week it has its fair share of foreign tourists. We had a wonderful trout and patacón (basically a massive crisp made from plantain) and then had lovely strawberries and cream on the square. Afterwards we headed off to do a coffee tour as the area is renowned for coffee. After an hour or so walk with lovely views across the hills, we found the coffee farm and were taken around by a rather un-enthused young woman who didn’t actually like coffee. It was interesting to learn about the process though, and we were able to pick coffee beans and grind them, as well as having a tasting session of the beautifully smooth coffee that the farm produces. Susanne was very enthusiastic when being able to pick coffee beans (she had the most at the end!) and even climbed onto a homemade bamboo ladder. After the farm, we rushed back into town before it got dark and so that Juan could get his bus back to Pereira. The rest of the evening was spent chilling in the hostel.
The next day we woke up early to get to a nature reserve called Kasaguardia owned by a British chap called Nicholas who we had met yesterday. He bought some land from farmers around 10 years ago and has turned it into a lovely nature reserve that features different stages of rainforest – succession (which is forest in recovery), young secondary jungle and mature secondary jungle. As we wandered through the forest we learned about these different stages, pioneer plants (which grow up before trees to provide enough protection from direct sunlight so that more dominant species can grow), the bamboo that is grown in the area and how it is processed. It was really interesting and Nicholas delivered his tour with such passion and enthusiasm. The wider vision is to build a self-sustainable eco lodge on the reserve for people to stay at. He proudly showed us the architectural plans and was excited that they are nearly at the construction stage as soon as they get permission from the town council – it would be great to come back in a few years to see how the project has developed. They even won an award for the architectural design of the planned lodges. After the tour we walked back to town and then moved ourselves to a different hostel that we had found the day before called La Floresta, which was a lot nicer and we were able to get a lovely private room with bathroom for the same price as a crappy double without bathroom at Plantation House. We had some lunch in town where Matt tried a typical dish called bandeja paisa, a massive tray of meat, beans, rice, avocado, plantain and arepa – think of an artery-busting fry up and you’ll be close! For the rest of the day we chilled out at the hostel reading and mingling with other people staying there. Part of the reason we stayed there was also because it was chucking it down with rain in the afternoon, so we didn’t have much desire to go outside. We went to bed early as we needed to get up early for our big trek the next day. However, as our bed was right next to the communal area we could hear everything and so didn’t get much sleep!
The next day we woke up early to catch a jeep (called a ‘willie’!) to a village called Cocora where we started our trek through the Valle de Cocora. When we woke it was raining loads, but luckily it subsided and apart from a tiny bit in the afternoon, we had no rain at all. The walk started through beautiful farm land with views of the hills and valley. The environment was really strange – with the green grass, lush trees and cows it reminded us of home, but the presence of palm trees and tropical trees completely changed the picture! Eventually the path led into a rainforest section where we had to cross rickety bridges across an incredibly fierce and fast river. At the top of the hill we reached a reserve called Acaima, which in reality was a house at the top of the hill owned by an old couple who were visited by tons of hummingbirds. We arrived and were given a typical hot chocolate with cheese while we sat awestruck by the number of hummingbirds flying around and visiting the bird feeders. The guy told us that they have six different species and they were all beautiful. So we sat around for about an hour and a half trying to take photos of these incredibly fast little buggers as they flitted around the area. We also saw a really weird animal that looked like across between a weasel, fox and a badger but that jumped in trees like a monkey – it was seriously weird. The animal feeds at the same reserve and a chicken had a bit of a stand off with him, but gave up as it was growling at the chicken.
After taking loads of photos we continued our journey to the top of the mountain which was at 3010 metres with a doggie following us who had apparently followed another couple from the village all the way along the route. The ascent was quite hard but short, and before we knew it we arrived at another house with views of the surrounding mountains with clouds drifting in. The area is renowned for its cloud forests and it was quite amazing to see a mass of clouds drift across the trees. It turns out that this was the top even though the mountain went a bit higher. We only worked this out after walking 10 minutes along the path that returned to town, and so decided to head back to the house at the top of the hill to have lunch and take in the view again. On the way back down we passed through an area full of the iconic wax palm trees (which incidentally is Colombia’s national tree), with loads of palms poking out of the surrounding grass-covered fields. They grow incredibly tall and are really thin, so it seems impossible that they can stand up. With the clouds drifting around us, it was all very beautiful and mysterious. Every now and then the clouds would pass and we would have lovely views across the valley with these palms poking up into the sky. Unfortunately, because the area is heavily farmed these wax palms will eventually disappear with no others being able to grow. Nonetheless, it was a stunning sight and we could understand why it was described as one of the most striking landscapes in Colombia. We made it back to the village of Cocora just in time for our jeep back. For the rest of the evening we had another round of strawberries and cream and chilled out in the hostel again cooking a nice dinner for ourselves. Tomorrow we have to leave lovely Salento and make for the city of Cali for some salsa dancing!